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Sinclair Darlings(ide)

When I got there, late last Thursday night, the Sinclair had an unusually low-key energy. It kind of felt like the Powers That Be had pushed back Twain's stage time (they were opening for Darlingside) to do a late-night sound check, or like the venue had been delaying things with a recorded set list but the speakers had conked out. Even with the low audience hum, it was that quiet, and there was that little energy. And having listened to Twain’s label debut with Keeled Scales (Rare Feeling (2017), more info here) a few times through now, the reality of their live performance was awkward; I had been expecting the coherent, and (occasionally) profoundly listenable sound that defines tracks like "Solar Pilgrim" and "Freed from Doubt," and instead found myself struggling to follow along.

I'm sympathetic, though; all it takes is a coffee house experience or two to know that it's really, profoundly hard for acoustic groups to command attention, when that attention isn’t already there. And for that sound to have to fill an electric space, like the Sinclair’s? People have to want to listen, or they won't. In other words, Twain faced an uphill battle from moment one. Those tracks I could make out weren’t bad (kind of a mix of California grunge rock and Bon Iver, see similar albums here), but the group failed where others have come through in that they were just too young, and too nervous to hit their stride.

Tl;dr, Would recommend Twain if you ever need to out-chill that guy who's played Bon Iver six tracks in a row. Spotify will suffice tho, live set was not a mood.


I was nervous after Twain, having listened to Darlingside’s stuff (everything from Pilot Machines to Birds Say to Whipporwill), that they were going to have a similar issue filling the Sinclair's space. Granted, my first encounter with the foursome - four years removed from Thursday night (they played for an admitted students’ weekend at their alma mater, Williams College) - had been electric. That should have assuaged my fears, but circumstances don't always translate.

And then, they started playing. Within moments of the lighting cue (a black stage gave way to flashing, naked bulbs) I remembered why “Blow the House Down” has been on my default playlist since 2014; Twain’s issue was that they couldn’t fill the stage or the space, but when Darlingside sings (and all of them do; Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft), they take up even less square footage, and yet still somehow manage to get at the cheap seats. The coordination between them (during the opening, but also throughout) was so profound that I’d honestly back them in a synchronized swimming event, whenever. That goes for the vocals, but it goes even more so for the instrumental element on show; every member was singing throughout, but they also switched instruments early and often. At one point, David Senft was playing bass and kick drum while he sang. (I nearly went home to put up my own guitar on ebay.)

The Williams alums, now Boston-based, opened with "Singularity” (from their new album Extralife). Might be nostalgia, but before Thursday I would've called myself partial to early Darlingside; now, I'm not sure. Extralife is a masterpiece. In one interview, NPR called it “sumptuous,” with “harmony-heavy songs.” But performed live, those harmonies (primarily vocal) are if anything secondary to Darlingside's heart-pounding rhythm, kept afloat by intense musicianship and active communication. Also, I know I've knocked them before, so I should mention that there was a good show by the venue’s lighting team, too; at the end of “My Gal, My Guy” (from Birds Say (2015)) the final note lined up with a neat black out, and there were projected white lights dancing on (and above) the audience all night.

Other highlights of the gig included “Futures” (Extralife), and the geographic non-sequitor “Good for You” (Birds Say). The best moment though was perhaps Paseltiner’s cello solo before “Harrison Ford” (also from Birds Say), which led into an incredible musical peak (even if the lyrics varied in their comprehensibility between being clear-as-day and greek-to-me, short-story Hemingway and theory-heavy Lacan). As a matter of fact, I’d be remiss not to put a brief spotlight on Paseltiner for his part in the gig as a whole; Darlingside is emphatically and impressively focused on the collective (the New Yorker called them a "rigorously egalitarian foursome"), but the classically-trained cellist stood out in most every moment.

Other than the music, should also say that the banter was unusually strong. Two songs in there was a bit on Barritt’s (like, the ginger beer) that’ll probably make me think of Darlingside now every time I see a can. And towards the end, Mukharji introduced the members with bits of Waltham trivia assigned to each (amongst his references were El Taqueria Amigo, Waltham Tattoo, the band Waltham, and the Waltham watch company). The monologue could’ve been written for the Onion, and watching Mitchell, Paseltiner, and Senft watch him was (forgive the cheese) heart-warming.

Tl;dr, if you haven’t already, I would definitely give a listen to Darlingside (Extralife and Birds Say, in particular). Also, check in on tickets! They’re selling out fast, and I couldn't recommend the experience more highly.